Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend reading: Obama's coming victory

We're now into single digits--nine days out from election day. McCain was on Meet the Press this morning to say he was "happy" about where his campaign was and insisting that he will win. But the polls are saying something very different. Here's an indication of how bad things are going for Palin/McCain: Georgia has gone to toss-up status according to McCain's lead is just under three points in...Georgia!

Over at Newsweek Markos Moulitsas has an article for the November 3 issue that starts off "On Nov. 4, Barack Obama will be elected as the next president of the United States." No ambiguity there at all. More and more analysts are willing to bet it all that Obama will win on November 4, and win big. As he says, "the big question is, will Democrats nationwide simply 'win' the night—or will they deliver an electoral drubbing so thorough that it signals the utter rejection of conservative ideology and kills the notion that America is a "center-right" country?"

What has happened since 2000 and 2004? The answer is probably that Republicans actually never had a very strong grip on the country. George W. Bush didn't even win the popular vote in 2000. The Supreme Court had to stop the Florida recount and declare him the winner. Florida pushed Bush over the goal line by one electoral vote. In 2004 Bush defeated Kerry by 35, which was, except for 2000, still the closest election since 1968. Looking back, it seems clear that Karl Rove and company knew they were walking a thin line, which is why every issue had to be politicized and leveraged for maximum impact.

But now all of that appears to be ending. If current polls are accurate, Obama could win 381 electoral votes. That's without Georgia's 15. That includes states like Colorado, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, and New Mexico. All states which voted for Bush in 2004. Given the toss-up status of the country, politically, in 2000 and 2004, and add in the complete failure of Republicans over the last eight years, and you have the makings of a landslide. I can't remember the last time a party made such large gains in both the executive election, and in the congressional races. Along with Obama coming to the White House, the Democrats stand to win up to nine more seats in the Senate, and add to their majority in the House.

I always thought McCain was the best candidate for the Republican ticket this fall. McCain once showed concern for immigrants, and disgust for corporate greed. He was known as a pragmatic reformer with a real track-record to run on, including everything from immigration reform to challenging Department of Defense officials on torture. Not to mention McCain's own, powerful, personal story. As David Brooks writes in the New York Times, "His campaign seemed the perfect vehicle to explain how this old approach applied to a new century with new problems — a century with widening inequality, declining human capital, a fraying social contract, rising entitlement debt, corporate authoritarian regimes abroad and soft corporatist collusion at home."

Immediately after Obama won the Democratic nomination last summer, the McCain camp started positioning themselves as reformers. Reformers of their own party, and of the country. They seemed to understand two important facts: that the country was hungry for change, and disgusted with anything associated with George W. Bush. But as Brooks points out, McCain "never articulated a governing philosophy." All of his tactics were about "how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country."

Someone--I wish I could remember who--boldly declared McCain's campaign over the minute he selected Sarah Palin to be his VP. I was not as sure, but now it appears that person was correct. Palin was a wild card with a lot of upside. But as she has made her case in front of Americans, many view her as simply unqualified for the job. Her rhetoric has turned increasingly hostile, and Brooks gets it right when he says she "represents the old resentments and the narrow appeal of conventional Republicanism." She has done nothing but appeal to the conservative base, which is not enough to win in 2008.

McCain's choice of Palin has been highly scrutinized. Many openly asking "why?" a question Jane Mayer attempts to answer in her New Yorker article "The Insiders: how John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin." Palin seems to have done a masterful job of wooing beltway insiders to transport herself from Alaska to Washington. Her most influential early supporter turned out to be William Kristol, neoconservative writer for the Weekly Standard. Kristol met Palin when his Alaskan cruise ship stopped in Juneau. After one meeting he was completely struck and began to push her for VP consideration.

Mayer writes how McCain came up to be linked to Palin. Originally he wanted Joe Lieberman but eventually backed down to advisers who warned that Lieberman was too liberal on social issues. Karl Rove wanted former rival Mitt Romney on the ticket, but hard feelings remained from the primaries. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was too conventional (McCain is now losing Minnesota by 12 points). McCain wanted his "maverick" image to be conveyed in his VP as well. Finally McCain's aides converged on Palin. "By the time he announced her as his choice," Mayer writes, "he had spent less than three hours in her company."

To read of how Palin came to be McCain's VP is almost laughable. The want ad would have read something like this:

Wanted: reformer and social conservative for the second highest position in the land. Female desired. Short resume a bonus.

The list of potential running mates was always pretty thin for the Republicans. Compared to the Democrats, their roster of stars is a joke. They knew a woman would be a plus, given all the angry Hillary supporters searching for a home. Palin fell right into their laps. But in 2008, capability trumps even gender.

One person close to McCain called the Palin pick "the fucking most ridiculous thing I've ever heard" and national reaction, after Palin finally gave a few interviews, wasn't far off. SNL quickly turned her into a national punch line, and her appearance on the show last weekend did nothing to buck that trend. A true maverick, Palin, with her $150,000 wardrobe, tanning bed in the executive mansion, and a makeup artist earning more on her payroll than her foreign policy adviser, seems to be all about brand Palin. She has certainly "energized the base" as McCain likes to say, but she has done nothing outside of that 30% of America. Many are openly saying McCain should have dumped her, and she is now an undeniable albatross on the campaign.

I find a few things particularly delightful about Palin's rise in correlation to McCain, and the Republican's, fall. One is William Kristol's participation in the matter. There's certainly no fool like an old fool, and that would be Kristol. Mayer's article, while certainly liberal, makes it clear that many Republican good ol' boys were takin in by Palin, the former beauty queen. Many described her--in print--as "a honey," or "a looker," etc. They stood no chance against a confident woman in a business suit. It must have been like meeting a modern-day Republican pin-up girl.

I noted before that America is fed up with Bush. Up to just recently, Kristol had been unceasing in his support of the president and the Iraq war. He was far behind the curve. That he applied his considerable judgment to the selection of the Republican VP pick, one which came to represent almost everything that is wrong about the Republican platform, is almost too good to be believed.

And poor McCain, a man who let his mavericky image trump what was once pragmatism. The right VP pick was Romney. Even before it went to hell, the economy was the number one issue on voters minds, especially to essential swing state blue collar voters. By picking the social conservative, McCain ceeded the center. He ceeded pragmatism for politics. And he lost the election.

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